Don Rogers: An ocean of metaphor
We slip lively out of the harbor, hull smooth, rudder quick, sails full, the voyage of a lifetime.
We point toward the horizon and the setting sun. Then a green flash, rare and true, never seen. But we saw it, surely an omen.
Soon enough we’ve weathered many sunsets, many long nights and dawns, too. Storms, calms oily and dull, everything between. We’ve made a home out here, far from shore, sea lapping or humped huge. Sails still, then snapped with a booming surprise in a gust out of nowhere, though we could have seen it had we looked, the ripples, those dark sketches darting fast this way and that. Then right at us.
This is life, right? Some of it mapped, some, so much, on the move, gripped and tugged and let go on instinct.
White caps, exhilarating at noon, bright and sparkling blue. Moonless nights, high chattering in the stays humming tight, singing metallic songs to a halyard percussion. Cold, cold breaks across the bow, hands numb to the tiller’s touch. Time slides, the thing vibrates and rolls, alive. Sunrise is flat out beautiful. We earned it. Or endured to see it, anyway.
Salt in the water, the sweat, the tears. Sometimes on the foredeck you taste blood, a nose, a split lip, a line whipped through your hands. Hold on.
Smaller craft set out, their hulls smooth, rudders lively. Barnacles have forested ours. Crustaceans even. Layers. A reef. A city. Fins in the blue shadow.
What do we owe to what has sprung up, what’s slowing us down? But a sea anchor, too, easier when the going gets rough, the ocean mountainous in a gale.
Maybe, if you are lucky, or not, you are invited to join one of these lithe boats, just to the horizon and back, maybe a little farther, maybe on a hint of a promise of forever, on a light air and softly undulating swell.
Maybe you forget, in an amnesia of the moment, your promise to remain, to see this through to some distant shore, or figure anyway that was before you knew about barnacles, before the good ship began taking on water.
Maybe you ache as a sleek yacht skips out in a fresh breeze while you lumber, wondering if you did right and good, or only fell in line with something you once were told, that this the way things are done, have always been done, must be done.
What is love, what is loyalty against a sparkling sea, that swell, that breeze?
Besides, this old tug has become a labor now. The voyage has worn on, you’ve seen it all, the planks worked wide, sails blown out of trim, bow no longer holding so high in a headwind, rust, crust, a film over the glass, splinters on the deck.
Still the sun sets and rises, inexorably, on course and all this time. She’s baked in, seasoned, under your skin, everything shared, knowing when to do what, hoisting, hauling in, folding, the tacks, the gibes, coffee at sunrise, maybe a nip at dusk, the conversations, knowing which ache to sooth unspoken, stars out, billions and billions of years up there, still stunning, awesome if you stop to think. All this time.
But what to do if we’re to reach shore? Scrape? Sand? Repair? Rebuild! Yes, that’s it, out of the old. Make something new of the same wood, the familiar cloth.
Joints may still creak, lines and cables and sailcloth permanently stretched, the whole enterprise aging into character, art, a gorgeous statement about endurance, even grace. But those barnacles, well, they have to go, the hull shaved smooth again, or OK, at least smoother. Let’s be real.
Not so lithe, not so quick, but she’s sound now, even beautiful, as we glide into port, every nick, every rust stain hard won, the whole voyage fully earned, our souls the better for it, arriving at last.
Well, fortune favored us, too, all along, make no mistake. The mast managed to stay up. They come down sometimes, you know, and even stave in and sink the stoutest ship unless lashed amid the din and breaking madness to the deck. Or cable cutters can be found to do their quick work soon enough, snip the rigging free. It’s the stays and shrouds you really have to worry about, all that shiny cable, steel stainless and unforgiving. Anyway, the albatrosses we saw always flew.
But we knew this all at once in the beginning, didn’t we, in the green flash and our young, young laughter, tuned up for adventure, whatever may come.
Or was it faith? We took this on faith when we each said I do, and faith became our north star. What took us past the sirens, through the storms, off the rocks, and inspired regeneration in its turn.
One quick second set the course for a lifetime, against eternity. A flash and we did know. Indeed we did.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.